Oscar wilde’s maxim is still the most pertinent of all after Mark Simmonds followed Sayeeda Warsi and became the second minister to leave the Foreign Office within a week. To lose one politician may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness.
While Baroness Warsi did resign on a point of principle over Gaza, the timing of her former colleague’s departure is perplexing. If Mr Simmonds did truly believe that it was incompatible to be a Minister and the MP for Boston and Skegness simultaneously, why did he not choose to step aside during the recent reshuffle in which Philip Hammond replaced William Hague as Foreign Secretary?
The unfortunate timing – Mr Simmonds also intends to leave the Commons at the next election – is not a ringing endorsement of Mr Hammond’s leadership at a time when the Government is facing growing criticism for not recalling Parliament over the Iraq crisis.
While it was difficult to justify such a move last week, the international response to the slaughter of minority Christians and Yazidis by Islamic State extremists may have to be strengthened to prevent mass genocide. Even though Britain wants to focus on the supply of humanitarian aid, Mr Cameron could, in time, need Parliament’s authorisation to sanction air strikes to protect those who are most at risk of persecution. In this regard, it might be beneficial for the Commons to consider providing such a mandate in order to keep open the possibility of a surprise attack.
This is the view of Lord Dannatt, the former head of the Army, and it would be unwise to ignore this sage advice – even though safeguards against ‘mission creep’ would be required. After all, the West still has more obligations to the Iraqi people following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003 – even if this is being overshadowed by the Foreign Office’s various upheavals.
The benefit of leaving Ministers to get on with the job is exemplified by the effectiveness of Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms. The one-time ‘quiet man’ of the Tory party, who had been tipped for demotion in the recent reshuffle, will have five years to leave a lasting mark on the Department of Work and Pensions.
Of course, Mr Duncan Smith would like to have made more progress and there have been a number of glitches, not least with the much-vaunted Universal Credit which was intended to simplify matters and replace six means-tested benefits and tax credits with one straightforward system of payment. He is not the first Minister to have been let down by difficulties with IT systems, nor is he likely to be last.
Yet it is important that the pace of change is maintained, and that the Minister’s mantra – namely ‘work pays’ – becomes ingrained in society. Despite difficult decisions like the imposition of the so-called bedroom tax, there is a growing acceptance across the political spectrum that the claiming of benefits is not a legitimate career choice.
Previously governments have always been minded to increase welfare spending on the eve of a general election, not least in Margaret Thatcher’s era. However it is important that the coalition resists this temptation. Work on reducing welfare dependency is only just beginning and needs to be accelerated as the economy picks up. In this regard, Mr Duncan Smith’s continued ambition should be applauded.
On The Right Track
THAT TRANSPORT features so heavily on the political agenda, nationally and locally, is to the credit of those business and civic leaders from across Yorkshire who have been making the case for additional funding.
Without this pressure, the Government would not be committed to improving trans-Pennine links from Leeds to Manchester in the medium term – or building the controversial HS2 high-speed route from London to the North over the next 25 years.
Yet it is important that policy-makers do not neglect the need for more urgent measures to increase capacity on key rail routes between Yorkshire’s key cities, not least Leeds and Sheffield.
Though the rivalry between these two great cities will always be a friendly one, the future economic success of both does depend on more frequent train journeys – especially as the M1 is already in a semi-permanent state of gridlock at peak times.
A fast train every 40 minutes would not be tolerated in London. Why, therefore, should Yorkshire accept second best?